Tails of Seattle: A pets blog
Trainer Q&A: Apartment noises and your dog
Question: A small dog, who lives in an apartment with her owner, barks at the many noises she hears. She barks at doors opening and closing, people talking in the stairwell, etc. The owner has tried time outs, but by the time she could catch the dog she'd long since forgotten what she'd done wrong.
The owner is now on the "spray them with water" technique. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. How can apartment dwellers help their dogs adjust to the many noises they will hear? How can they control the barking?
Answer: The squirt bottle may make the dog temporarily quiet, but the dog is either not associating the squirt bottle with the silence in relation to the noises (so the dog is only quiet when the owner shushes or brings out the bottle) or the dog IS associating the squirt with the noises, in which case there is more stress.
One thing to do is get a sound desensitization CD, like Victoria Stillwell's CD series on Positively.com. Play those at low volume at first, and then gradually work up to louder and louder noises.
Another thing you can do is click and treat whenever your dog notices the sound but doesn't bark. You'll have to pay close attention to that and mark the instant she notices the sound (head or ears perk up).
Treat in a consistent place, like her crate or dog bed.
While you are gone, you can put her in a covered crate so there are fewer sounds (if she's used to a crate). Play the sound CD so that the real noises blend in with the fake ones.
Also look into other events that may be stressing her and reduce or eliminate that stress.
For example, if she can see outside a window to bark at passers-by, get rid of that visual by taping wax paper to the window. If that works, get something official like bottom-up window blinds or adhesive window film.
Grisha Stewart, MA, CPDT-KA is an author, dog trainer and seminar presenter who specializes in dog reactivity. She owns Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle and has published four DVDs on dog reactivity and a book, "Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Aggression, Frustration, and Fear in Dogs."
Do you have a question about pet behavior? Ask now! We'll pose some of your questions to a local trainer in an upcoming post.
Read earlier Q&A columns here.